A recent study “State of Digital Marketing Report” indicated that for both B2B (57%) and B2C (41%) websites, search engine optimization was the most effective marketing tactic for lead generation over paid search advertising and social media marketing. Keep in mind, the study was sponsored by a provider of SEO services and had a conservative sample size. Despite that, the findings are consistent with what many successful SEO practitioners have known for years.
There are a number of additional studies that have supported the notion that Search Marketing (PPC and SEO) are the most effective and efficient practices for improving website traffic, leads and sales. In fact, Google has compiled a number of case studies and examples of how online search has driven substantial offline sales. Earned, Owned, Paid and Shared Media all drive search as search drives both online and offline outcomes for business.
Different companies and industries may find some variation with the role of search optimization in their mix, but there’s no mistaking that optimizing content and social media for relevant visibility where customers are actively looking has tremendous benefits and cost efficiencies. But despite the benefits, many companies neglect to engage a proactive content optimization strategy and even fewer optimize social media and overall website content holistically.
For a better picture of how to think about holistic optimization (An Optimized State of Mind), I’m going to share one of the key models from the book I’m currently writing, Optimize: How to Attract and Engage More Customers by Integrating SEO, Social Media and Content Marketing to be published by Wiley in 2012.
For effective optimization as a state of mind, I believe there are three key components of brand and customer interaction to optimize for. Focusing on these three areas can help companies become more relevant and effective in their ability provide meaningful customer experiences that inspire action.
Optimize for Discovery
Customers arrive at the act of searching for a variety of reasons ranging from longer term research for larger or more complex purchases to solving an immediate problem or need. People search for more reasons than to buy a product or service and companies publish more content online than things for sale. Any content brands publish online is an opportunity for optimization to make it easier and more relevant to connect with intended audiences whether they are prospective customers, existing customers, industry media, job candidates or company employees.
Optimizing for discovery goes beyond search though, since consumers use a variety of channels to find information online. According to Cross Channel Commerce (pdf), a report from Oracle, “When purchasing a product or service, more than three-quarters of consumers use two or more channels to research and complete the transaction. Nearly one-third of consumers said they use three or more channels.” Optimizing for customer discovery means a 360 degree view of how people prefer to find content. For search, it means keywords, content and links. For social media it means topics, networks and communities. Knowing how your audience prefers to find information relevant to your business will provide valuable insight for your content marketing, optimization and social media strategy.
Companies can get a good start on finding consumer discovery preferences by using a combination of CRM, web analytics, social media monitoring tools and competitive research tools. Data from those sources relevant to your desired audience and outcomes can fuel a more effective approach to Social SEO & Content Marketing. Monitoring and revisiting those sources can provide an ongoing source of insight for iterative improvements as you implement tactics that are more thoughtful about consumer behaviors.
Optimize for Consumption
Search is just a start. Appearing high in search results or being mentioned as a resource within social media and networks is only part of the journey for customers as they navigate the kind of information that leads to a conclusion. It’s important to understand what content formats and media types a target audience prefers. There’s a lot of “one size fits all” when it comes to content creation and promotion because it’s tough to scale or be efficient otherwise. But how useful is the exact same content format online as mobile or email? Congruency of message and branding can be important, but it’s not the same thing as using the exact same content in every channel.
Content needs to deliver on the search and social promise. In the way that we research how our customers and target audience prefer to discover content, it’s also effective to identify what formats they prefer for content consumption. Do they respond best to long form articles (like this one) or a series of shorter form tips? Do they like images or video? Do they respond better to infographics or tabular data? Are they inspired more by case studies and white papers or demos and webinars? What combination of these content formats and user experiences are most likely to resonate with your audience?
Make the case for better user experience as a content marketing tactic. Web developers and interactive media designers often create personas and use case scenarios for the applications and designs they create. Some of that same insight is appropriate with content marketing. If a brand expects the most effective and efficient outcomes form their online marketing investment, then some understanding of content formats and types is essential.
Optimize for Engagement
High visibility in search is just an initial step in the consumer journey for a solution. Consumers might perform multiple queries on a search engine as they refine their search and possible solutions. With the increase in consumer use of social media, customers increasingly expect to interact with what they find in search results. Most marketers are focused on the shortest route from discovery to revenue. In the SEO world that means optimizing content for keywords most likely to convert. Of course this assumes you’ve solved the attribution problem and then we have the whole Google encrypted search referrers issue.
Is this a date or the honeymoon? There’s nothing wrong with that but website marketing efforts that are solely focused on converting every visitor to a sale without realizing other consumer needs in the purchasing decision may very well be leaving a lot of money and goodwill for referrals on the table. Social engagement is an increasing influence on the decision to buy. eMarketer has reported that over 50% of Twitter followers are more likely to purchase from brands they follow and Coca-Cola has shared that Facebook fans are 2 times as likely to consume & 10 times more likely to purchase than non-fans.
Not every consumer that finds brand product and service content is ready to buy, but if there’s useful content provided to help them appreciate the value of the product/service, they might bookmark or share it. Some sales cycles involve a bit more “content romance” and education. In the way that consumers expect to find a way to contact the company for a sales or customer service inquiry, they expect to find things like a company blog or social media presence. Engagement runs the spectrum from a Google+ share or blog comment to making a purchase, writing a review or making a specific social network recommendation about a product that was just purchased.
Be wise and optimize for great customer experience. Optimizing for engagement means conversion optimization as much as it means optimizing for a great user experience and social sharing. Engaging and useful content that tells brand stories about customer use of products and services is the kind of content that inspire both sharing and conversion outcomes.
A key question for marketers that want to better optimize for engagement is: What messages, topics and contexts motivate your community to interact, share and convert?
Holistic optimization of content is relevant across the brand and customer relationship and lifecycle. Most companies focus on content marketing optimization solely for customer acquisition and sales, which makes sense because the focus is on revenue and marketing departments are most likely to fund and implement such tactics. But it’s entirely possible for companies to realize additional revenue goals as well as improved reach, brand awareness and thought leadership with a holistic content optimization approach. Additionally, companies can improve efficiency and effectiveness of other content publishing entities in the organization ranging from Public Relations to Customer Service to Human Resources by making sure their content is optimized for the target audiences that are looking (searching and socializing).
I’ve briefly mentioned the notion of optimizing for consumer content when it comes to Discovery, Consumption and Engagement in the past, through blog posts and industry conference presentations without having a dedicated post to link to. Now I’ve solved that problem and also provided more specific insight into these opportunities for readers to evolve their online marketing.
I know from first hand experience, the temptation to focus solely on popular keywords and popular social channels as a means to drive online sales and engagement is more the norm than an “old way” of doing things. But as more marketers realize the importance of content marketing and a more customer centric approach to connecting holistically to brand audiences, I think an effort to extend the notion of what can be optimized will broaden. At the same time, it will become more focused on customer lifecycle and not just the buying cycle.
What are you doing to optimize more holistically in your search, social media and content marketing mix?
Next Monday I will be publishing another glimpse at Optimize, focusing on a framework for Content Marketing and Social Media Optimization that carries through these principles of Discovery, Consumption and Engagement.